What is Pragmatics?

Pragmatics is the study of how people use language to communicate their meaning and intention. It complements other areas of linguistic study such as semantics (the meaning of words), grammar (the rules that describe how to put words together) and semiotics (the study of symbols).

How we use our spoken language to interact with other speakers can depend on many different factors, including our background, education, cultural beliefs and expectations. Having good pragmatic skills can help us communicate effectively with others in the workplace, at home or in social situations.

The key theories of pragmatics include deixis, presumptive meanings and conversational implicatures. There is also a sub-discipline called performative linguistics, which explores how language functions in real-world contexts.

Dewey, James and Peirce were the most prominent of the original pragmatists. Their ideas were highly influential and their works have been translated into a wide variety of languages. But the pragmatist movement as a faction waned by the 1940s and a more sophisticated analytic philosophy developed in the United States.

The pragmatists espoused an approach to philosophy that was less a matter of metaphysics and epistemology than a way of clarifying and dissolving intractable debates. This stance, often referred to as the down-to-earth approach, drew inspiration from a variety of sources.